Friday, December 30, 2011

Grand Canyon

1.60 Grand Canyon. Painting progression. Finally! I am able to use shadows in a way that creates a sense of scale and three dimensional space. I really enjoy the Grand Canyon at sunset as a subject. If you squint at it, the shady areas go black and the areas still lit by the setting sun seem to be floating, detached.

I took a much more realistic approach to the clouds this time, which was a lot of fun but seems to be from a different painting than the shadow and stone. I first tried to complete this painting with a more limited palette but was not satisfied and had to go back, adding color and detail. I like to avoid detail and will try to limit the amount included next time I choose this subject.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cathedral Valley

1.59 Cathedral Valley. Painting progression. The clouds that came out so easily earlier were difficult to create this time. I also had a hard time finding something interesting to show in the shadows. I try to avoid painting too many small sections of shadow because I think it breaks up the shape of the stone like camouflage and undermines the sense of scale that I'm trying to convey. Here I tried to merge some sections of shade together but created some shapes that don't make three dimensional sense, most noticeably in the big shadow on the stone left of center. The shadow appears to be in front of the stone! Not nestled into a deep recess.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Lake Powell

1.58 Lake Powell. Painting progression. Painting Lake Powell, I always feel very conflicted. I want to show the beauty of what used to be Glen Canyon, but I also want to make a statement about what has become of it since the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam. What I really want to create is an incomplete landscape, like Pompeii buried beneath volcanic ash. However, as with my last attempt at making a commentary on the impact of the glen canyon dam, this one is not visually compelling.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Monument Valley II

1.56 Monument Valley II. Painting progression. Monument Valley provides a great subject for painting. Its shapes are so unmistakable that it lends itself to depiction with few details. Also each form is dramatically isolated. Long telephoto views of the valley provide an appealing layering of shapes which keep the scene interesting. What I really wanted to depict here was the extremely warm glow that appears during sunset as well as the slow dimming of a clear sky.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Arches NP

1.54 Arches NP. Painting Progression. What a difference a new brush makes. I have a habit of working with a brush until the bristles are frayed an bent in every direction and the base has hardened with paint that never got cleaned out completely. I feel like it makes the pattern produced by the brush stroke more random and lends itself well to creating an interesting texture. Alas as I was trying to scratch the clouds into the background of this painting with a brush that worked more like a dirty palette knife I decided it was time for a new brush. Thrilled with the renewed freedom of a flexible brush, I flipped the brush back and forth and swept white paint across the sky to form my clouds. I kind of like them. I was trying to remember my lessons from the last painting of monument valley; trying to keep the shapes simple. I managed to do this pretty well in the distant background but started to get a little more detailed in the foreground. What I like most about this is the perspective. To me it captures the feeling of standing before these massive standing sheets of stone.

Monument Valley

1.53 Monument Valley. I was really pleased with this because I didn't feel the need to add too many details. My opinion on any kind of representational creative pursuit is that every detail that must be added to successfully convey the subject is a failure on the part of the artist. The most striking art is that which can convey a place, person or feeling with only a few sparse details. That experience of seeing a fish created with just four brushstrokes in a sumi-e painting affirms our humanity as it reminds us that we absorb more through our subconscious than any machine. Because of this, I cringe with every little bit of texture and finely detailed shadow that I have to add in order to give a recognizable shape to the subject that I'm painting. In this painting more than almost any other I was able to relax and trust the overall forms to convey the scene rather than the details. I also engaged in a little more manipulation of the scene than normal, stacking multiple layers of background up into the sky. I wanted the sense of the expanse of space in monument valley that you see in an aerial photograph but I still wanted to be up close to the mitten to feel like we were sitting with it, watching the sun set.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


1.52 Shiprock, NM. Not my favorite painting... but I was happy with how the horizon turned out. When you have access to a high vantage point you see that haze and distance combine on an immense flat area to create a horizon that fades from red to brown to grey to blue. This effect has always been really difficult for me to recreate because I always try to do it as a perfect gradient. What I realized here is that the transition is not a perfect gradient but instead transitions abruptly or gradually depending on the rise and fall of the landscape. If there is even a small swell in the distance then the transition to blue will progress abruptly just over the top of the hill. Flat areas will have a more gradual transition. The problem with a perfect gradient across the horizon is that it implies that the land is perfectly flat, which it almost never is.

  The problem that I ran into here was that I couldn't get a good grasp on the three dimensional form of Shiprock. No matter how I tried to suggest a real three dimensional object with the addition of shadows and color variations, I just couldn't get it to come off of the canvas. At best it now looks like a few pieces of paper cut into jagged shapes and held up in front of a desk lamp. This is probably what causes the long shadow to look so false to the people to whom I have shown the painting. One person said "The shadow looks way too tall". This must be because there's no way to tell if the Shiprock in this painting is a massive, jagged protuberance or a pebble in the sand. For a pebble in the sand to have a shadow reaching out to the mountains on the horizon is ridiculous.

Goosenecks of the San Juan

1.51 Goosenecks of the San Juan. Painting progression. After finishing the last painting, I decided that I'd like to do more paintings that did not show the sky. The landscape of the southwest does not offer many clues to the scale of what you are looking at. All the normal objects that one would use for size comparison are few and far between: trees, animals, houses. One way that you do realize the size of what you're looking at is the way that distant objects seem to fade into the haze. Their colors become less vibrant and their shadows lose contrast. Sometimes things seem to be so far away that the sun has already set on them while you're still watching the sunset at your current location. That was the look that I was trying to convey in this painting.
For some reason I didn't use any solid colors in this painting and instead found that I liked the look of wavering streaks of color. This was due to the appearance of the cliffs that I was trying to depict. They weren't clean hewn walls of stone but rather slowly crumbled slopes. All sizes and colors of rock were mixed in along these slopes with hints of the underlying stratification peeking through. I tried to counter the messy look of the rock with clean and definite shadows.

Canyon de Chelly

1.50 Canyon de Chelly. This one is interesting to me. I often find that paintings that I really like don't look as interesting when I view them on the computer screen after photographing them. Conversely I find that paintings I dislike often look better on the screen than they do in person. This one falls into the latter category. Its still by no means one of my favorites but there are certain failed effects that I was trying to create that look a little more believable now. The first (and the whole reason that I attempted this painting in the first place) is the look of the dry riverbed. Its should appear to be streaked with ruts from where the last trickles of water ran before the flow ceased altogether. I was also trying to give a hint of this texture even in the area that is in shadow. I used a couple different shades of brown with a retardant to slow the drying of the paint. I kept laying each shade on top of the other, drawing the brush through the whole course of the riverbed each time. I tried to change the path slightly each time so that the ruts would cross over one another.
One particular detail that I'm very disappointed in are the low shrubs in front of the canyon wall in the right middle of the painting. In a book the reader's interest is held by the author's skill in picking out important details and calling attention to things that the reader may not have noticed if he or she were observing the same event. This doesn't mean giving every detail right down to the amount of rust on the nails in the floorboards; it means picking out the details that provide some insight into the essence of the scene and then finding a way to concisely describe them. These shrubs to me were a key to this scene. The shadows that they cast on the canyon wall gives the viewer a strong sense of where the sun is: just over their left shoulder. It also shows that the horizon is clear and subtly reminds the viewer that the canyon walls are really huge. I failed to depict these shadows. I painted them onto the wall before painting the shrubs but then covered them up when I painted the shrubs.
Seeing an object cast an accurate shadow in a painting is something that is very important to me and it is not so difficult when that object is a large boulder. I must get better at depicting more delicate objects like shrubs though...

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cedar Breaks National Monument

1.49 Cedar Breaks NM. Painting progression. I can't decide if this looks like a canyon or just splotches of color. I know what it is supposed to look like so I see a canyon but I'm afraid that other people wouldn't. Maybe that is a good thing though. One good thing about not trying to accurately represent a subject is that you can focus more on making a pleasing composition of colored shapes in the painting. The problem here is that I'm not sure if this composition works as anything other than a depiction of a canyon.
I got a particularly watery bottle of brown acrylic paint recently. The brand that I use is usually a nice thick consistency but this particular bottle sometimes requires two applications to get a solid block of color. I had fun using this to give an uneven coloration to the shady portions of the painting. I painted the whole thing as if evenly sunlit first and then went back and painted the shadows over this. The thin brown paint allowed the lighter colors below to show through if I pushed hard with the brush.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Grand Canyon

1.46 Grand Canyon. Painting progression. I'm going to keep focusing on these dark scenes in an effort to find an interesting way to show shadows like these. There are only a few small places in this painting where the lighted areas truly convince the viewer that the dark areas are anything other than a patch of black paint. My goal is to make a painting with only small patches of color that still looks as full as a well lit landscape.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Mummy Cave

1.45 Mummy Cave, Canyon de Chelly. Going forward, I would like to focus more on how shadows can be used to convey the shape of an object. In this painting I tried to use shadows alone to show the form of the Anasazi dwelling. The cliff face and the structure are almost of a uniform color such that without the shadows, the structure would be very well camouflaged against the cliff. I still put some contrast between the colors but may try to use even less contrast in the future.

The other thing that I like about shadows is that they can imply the presence of things that are outside the frame. In this case, the shadow engulfing the house suggests that there is a large escarpment just to the right of our view.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Horseshoe Bend

1.44 Horseshoe Bend. Painting progression. This painting was started before two most recently posted ones. I'm almost never able to return to a painting that I've spend a long time away from to finish it. This one was so close though, with only 30 minutes of work left so I buckled down and did it this morning. I was trying to imply extreme distance with the shift to a greyish purple in the far background. As I had imagined it before I started, I would have liked to make the transition from purple to red more subtle. Instead I cheated and hid the intermediate ground behind swollen rocks. I didn't mean to do this and from up close when the paint was wet it looked more blended. I'll have to try this again. I also tried to show sand in the shallow water near the river bank with a wash of the color I was using for the bank. I wanted this to fade into the blue but instead it stops abruptly making it look more like a reflection. Maybe if I try this while the blue of the river is still wet it may fade in more convincingly. I'm not sure why I've been stuck on paintings with water lately but it is nice to be able to inject a little more color.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Spider Rock

1.43 Spider Rock. Hmm, more finger painting. I pretty much did this whole painting by hand (literally) before going back and repainting some sections with the brush. All the shadows were done with a brush. I kind of like the contrast of the sharp edged shadows with the unpredictable coloration that comes from applying paint with my fingers. This also helped me with a common problem I encounter when I'm painting a canyon. I always struggle to find the right balance between emptiness and little details in the land that runs off to the horizon. The random application of color followed by rubbing and scraping to reshape that color gave an interesting wavy quality to that part of the painting that I like more than anything going on in the foreground.

Friday, August 12, 2011

White House Ruins III

1.42 White House Ruins III. So I dropped the brush while working on this painting and it left a black streak down the middle of the canvas. I quickly tried to wipe as much of the paint off as I could with my hand. Seeing that this only smudged the paint I reached down and grabbed some yellow, brown and white on my fingertips and started rubbing the paint into the canvas trying to blend this blemished area back into the background. 30 minutes later I had redone most of the color in the painting using my fingertips and the palm of my hand. I then started grabbing handfuls of black paint and scratching the shadows into the color.

With a brush is it difficult to create a natural looking mass of color without some pattern emerging due to the shape of the brush used. Fingers are infinitely variable and much easier to manipulate at different angles than a brush.

This subject is one that I've revisited twice now. Each time I've painted this scene it has come out very differently than the other paintings that have been working on immediately before. I think it is because the canyon wall is very open to interpretation. As long as the titular ruins are recognizable, the rest can be abstract. I don't think I'm going to toss out my brushes and devote myself to finger painting, but this was a fun unexpected detour.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

River Bend

1.40, River Bend. Painting progression. It's been months since I've painted anything, with a new job sucking up much of my time and even more of my motivation. Having a two week shutdown has given me a chance to dive back into painting. I unintentionally picked a subject very different from what I normally paint with mixed results. Yes, its still a desert landscape but it is aerial and the features are on a completely different order of magnitude than what I usually paint.

I start out every painting with the intention of creating something simple and abstract and then slowly drift towards a clear representation as I obsess over details in the scene. I get caught up in painting shadows and add highlights where I think the stone looks too flat. Painting a scene from such a distance gave me a good opportunity to avoid intricate detail. However, each time I stepped away from the painting, I wasn't satisfied and went back to add in more details until I got stuck somewhere in between, unable to add any more detail and well past the simplicity I was striving for.

Another challenge for me was the perspective; although the sun is elsewhere it could be called "sun's eye" perspective. Shadows are much different from a perspective on the ground. From the ground, they are clues to the shape of an object. From this height they are merely clues to the position of the object with respect to other massive objects. I really struggled conveying this.
Also for some reason I chose a really massive canvas for this, and used big brushes which always tough for me because I like to focus on detail. I'm already well into another similar painting, trying to apply what I learned here...

Monday, May 23, 2011


I've been granted a spot at the annual Artsplosure arts festival in Raleigh, NC this year. I'll be there on May 21 and 22 to show my work and sell original paintings and prints. I've been fortunate enough to have the services of a local craftsman, Erik Mendoza, in building a stand to hold prints. I'm very excited about this event but a bit nervous because it is my first time showing my work in public. I'm still working on details of how I am going to display my work in my 10'x10' tent.

I've set up an account with sqaure that will allow me to accept credit card through my phone during the festival. I've had giclees printed through fine print and postcards and business cards printed at vistaprint. I'm really pleased with how the prints from fine print turned out and vistaprint... was cheap! and that's all I was really looking for from them so its OK! The reason that I'm writing about all these details is that I've found it very helpful to read other people's experiences at art festivals to get an idea of how I should prepare. As the date gets closer and I become more prepared, I'll keep updating this post to include any info that I think might be helpful to anyone going to their first art festival.

I'm really excited and the other artists all look like they have really amazing work to show, much more advanced looking stuff than mine. I'll look forward to seeing everyone's work later this month.


So Artsplosure has come and gone. I enjoyed it more than I would ever have expected. While it was a successful show and I sold my first two paintings ever, the real thrill was finding out how many people in the area are just as attached to the southwest as I am. Loads of people stopped in, pointing at one of my paintings, saying "we were just there last week!" Others said that they used to live in Utah or Arizona and that my paintings made them long for home. To me, that is the greatest success, to have created something that is meaningful to people who have shared a common experience with me. I was scared that showing paintings of desert landscapes in Raleigh would be an attempt to occupy the tiniest of niches, but with such a diverse population there are plenty of people who feel a connection to my subject of choice.

There are a few more bits of information that I think might be helpful to other people going out for their first show. Frame your prints, or at least include matting. Buy a mat cutter and make your own mats for odd sized prints. The prints may be affordable, but most people will think about the trouble and cost of having it framed. So either provide the frame or include a mat that has outer dimensions matching commonly available frame sizes. I had super-cheap prints but sold only one, compared to two original paintings.

To display my paintings, I hung sheets of white plastic lattice purchased from a hardware store from the frame of my tent. I then zip-tied the paintings to the lattice using metal hanging loops attached to the canvases. This saved a lot of anxiety as there was no way that the paintings would start falling when the wind ruffled my tent. I hung canvas drop cloth behind the lattice to reduce light shining through the paintings and give the area a more finished look.

Always have some business cards in your pocket. You may have them in a stand or on a table, but sometimes it is difficult or awkward to get one in your hands to give someone when they're walking out. Its good to have them in a neutral place so people can pick them up as they walk by, but you also need to be able to hand them out.

Obviously, have something eye catching near the front of your tent. I bought some cheap display easels to hold a couple of my favorite paintings out for people passing by to see. It's also important to have something interesting deeper in your tent. I had my largest painting mounted across the center of the back wall of my tent and it attracted a lot of visitors to come further into my tent to see it and the adjacent paintings.

Don't pounce on people coming into your tent. I made this mistake for the first couple of hours until I realized that I was actually chasing people away by jumping up to greet them. I found that a brief glance and a casual greeting to acknowledge that you are available to talk and then some space for the visitor to browse on their own works best. If a guest continues to look around, you might try to start a conversation. I would always ask people if they had ever been to Utah when I noticed them looking at one of my Utah paintings for a while. This usually started a conversation about where they had visited or wanted to visit.

Have prices clearly displayed. I didn't sell a single post card until I put the $1 sign up next to them halfway through. People are hesitant to ask because they don't want to find out that the price is higher than what they are willing to pay and then have to say no.

If you're local to the area where you are showing your work, let people know! I enjoyed talking to people from Raleigh, and I think that some people were happy to support a local artist. Artsplosure draws people from all over the country and a vendor from the triangle area has become somewhat rare.

That's all that I can remember for now, but I'll post more if I remember it later. Thanks to all the people who stopped by to talk with me, I really enjoyed hearing about everyone's experiences out west. There was one woman who came in with her husband and said that she was starting out as a painter. I wrote down her website, but I can't seem to get the link to work. Maybe I wrote it down incorrectly. If you're reading this, please email me the link, I'd love to see your work!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Park Avenue at Sunset

Painting 1.18, Park Avenue in Arches NP. One thing that you see a lot of in the desert are horizons where the landscape blends into the sky as it stretches off into the distance. When I first discovered photoshop I thought that I could take a picture that was taken on a cloudy day, remove the blown-out white sky and replace it with a more interesting sky from some picture taken on a sunny day. This, of course, results in a picture that looks completely fabricated and ugly. One big reason is that the horizon line will be all screwed up, the sky is dark and contrasty while the land in the distance is gray, or the sky on the horizon will be hazy while the land is sharp and clear. I tried to consider that issue here, where I wanted to create the impression of a landscape that continued on to the horizon. Dividing the scene into fore, middle and background I added increasing amounts of gray to the colors I was using as I moved farther away from the observer. This may seem like the obvious thing to do, but I painted over the background a number of times trying to find the right amount of gray to distinguish it from the sky while making what I thought was a realistic horizon.

The last time that I visited Arches, I assembled a time lapse video of sunset at Park Avenue over the course of two hours which can be viewed here. It was my first attempt at time lapse during day light and I learned a lot which I will try to share in my posts on that page.

Giclee Print

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Zion National Park

Painting 1.38 Zion National Park. When I thought I had finished this painting I stepped back to look at it and it just felt wrong. I spent the next couple of hours glancing over at it while I was watching a movie trying to put my finger on what had gone wrong. When I woke up the next morning I came out to look at it while I was brushing my teeth and it was so obvious: The little trees in the distance weren't casting shadows on the wall behind them! They appeared to be just floating in the air in front of the wall.

This kind of mistake is easy to make in a painting done from a photograph. Its easy to get caught up in recreating the basic form and location of blocks of color while ignoring the environmental source of those colors. Looking at the trees I saw green with some dark areas behind the green. I was more worried about not messing up the trees and I just added some dark spots in around the trunks to make it look like they were at least rooted somewhere. In the meantime I was carefully recreating the shadow of every other feature on that wall. Because I put so much focus on the shadows of everything else, the implication is that the trees were their own light source, unaffected by the shadows around them and creating none of their own.

This all underlines the importance of really studying a subject while painting it. If there is a shadow, figure out what is casting it. If there are overlapping features, try to imagine what is going on behind the overlap. Just copying shapes will leave things looking disjointed, especially in a medium like painting where features are often implied rather than laid out in explicit detail as they might be in an ink drawing.

Giclee Print

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sunrise Arch

Painting 1.37 Sunrise Arch. I realize this looks almost identical to the last painting I posted. This one sat on the easel for a long time while I was distracted by work, travel and home repairs. The longer it sat there, the more I scrutinized bits of it until I ended up having to repaint most of it to correct little errors that I noticed. I finally got back on track this week and generated some positive momentum with some changes in the positions of some shadows. With my interest in the painting rekindled after 2 months away I knocked the rest out quickly.

Another trend that I've been noticing is that I usually like the right sides of my paintings more than the left. I wonder if I spend more time on the right side because it is easier for me to work on, being right handed. I often procrastinate filling in the left side to the point that I lose track of the overall shape of stone I was trying to convey. I try not to just paint the shadows as if they are dark patterns on the stone, but as clues to the viewer about the form of the stone.

Giclee Print